I always ignored the small things in life, pursued what I believed was philosophically relevant. Then a week ago, I had a major surgery. As I write this, there’s a small chance it could be cancer. I could still need further treatment. Doctors removed a mass as big as a newborn baby. Despite the small chance of cancer, I stood outside yesterday, the first warm day in Florida this spring: 87 degrees, warm and muggy. But I didn’t mind. The sun was setting, the moon coming up. My eyes, seeing more acutely than they have in years, fell upon the oak trees in my front yard.
I’ve never cared about life’s simple pleasures. Existential questions—why are we here and what’s life purpose?—were all I cared about. I have always been in a rush to live in a meaningful way. But the old cliché “Stop and smell the roses” is more pertinent in these days after my surgery. The thing about simple pleasures is it’s not just about appreciating the so-called little things in life. It’s about how small things point to larger, more important things.
When I stood outside yesterday and looked at the oak trees, the pines in the distance twinkled and glimmered with moonlight. The smooth leaves of the oak trees fell like water into the warm air surrounding me. I stood there for five solid minutes simply appreciating being alive. My brush with death made me reach out to people to say, “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I appreciate you.” These are the actions—not philosophical theories, arguments, and abstractions—that now bring me real significance.
Standing there with the silvery-glow on the trees made me think of all the people I have wronged, intentionally or not. All the people I admire. All the people I respect. The people I aim to be like. I spent the majority of my life tussling with the “big” questions in life, but yesterday I felt the most human I ever have. Sometimes it takes a brush with death to become the person you are meant to be. Yesterday, I think I became that person.